Four months ago World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Novel Coronavirus as a pandemic and ever since then human life has undergone a paradigm shift. There are now more than four million cases of COVID-19 across the world. While COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency it has also spelled doom on the global economy. More than $83 billion have been removed from emerging markets since the crisis began, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and 80 countries have requested the help of the IMF.
Honourable Prime Minister of India had given a passionate call for developing India into a 5 trillion economy by 2024. COVID-19 has dealt a major blow to this vision. Government of India, think tanks such as Niti Aayog are taking extraordinary action to protect the people as well as our economy but more needs to happen. Non-profit organizations at the forefront of COVID-19 response in India can play a vital role in jumpstarting the Indian economy.
Since the beginning of the lockdown, non-profit organisations in India have come together to provide immediate relief to marginalized sections of the society – particularly the middle income and lower income groups which lie at the lower end of the housing pyramid – through the provision of essential items, food, hygiene items helping them survive this crisis. The World Bank classifies the world’s economies into four income groups — high, upper-middle, lower-middle, and low. The COVID-19 crisis has crippled the low income group. Migrant workers, construction workers and those doing temporary jobs without access to social insurance are most vulnerable to the debilitating impact of the pandemic. These informal workers are particularly vulnerable to loss of livelihoods.
According to International Labour Organisation (ILO), in India, about 400 million workers in the informal economy are at risk of falling deeper into poverty during this crisis. This is indeed a heart-breaking trend. In a recent poll of top economists, it was felt the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen inequality, in part through its disproportionate impact on low-skilled workers.
Here are 5 key steps that need to be implemented on a war-footing:
1. Devise ways to restrain the migrant workers from moving back to their villages. The workers need counseling and emotional support. Due to the lockdown, several NGOs are unable to reach out to the migrant community. In Kerala, Maharashtra and other regions in the country, construction workers working on housing projects have been stranded due to the lockdown. They have been provided them with daily essentials and hygiene items along with the local communities.
2. Identify transit migrant workers and those who have returned to their villages and create ‘safety nets’ for them including temporary shelters, subsidy for rental housing, livelihood opportunities, mental wellness and counseling.
3. Kick-start lending to groups and individuals in the villages through microfinance schemes including financing community enterprises and social enterprises.
4. Niti-Aayog can play an important role in classifying NGOs into 3 categories namely (a). National NGOs (b). Regional NGOs and (c). Community based organizations. This will help ensure a collaborative approach in helping the Government to jumpstart the economy.
5. Pathways to Permanence: It is critical to place the affected vulnerable communities on a path by providing them with durable, permanent shelter, shelter eco-system and livelihood solutions. A roadmap to be drawn for the next 9–12 months to ‘reverse’ the trend of daily wage workers’ migration by engaging different stakeholders including the community groups, migrant workers, corporates, donors, civil societies, government bodies at the village and district levels.
Although known as informal workers, this workforce makes a significant contribution to India’s economy. We must take effective measures to prevent their transition from ‘economically active population’ to the ‘New Poor’ category and protect their livelihood. This will in turn have a positive impact on the sinking economy as well. It is important for us to adopt a ‘bottom-up’ approach to ensure we build a solid foundation to jumpstart India’s economy.
(The writer is the Managing Director of NGO Habitat for Humanity India)